Hepatitis & liver cancer

Primary liver cancer (also known as hepatocellular carcinoma) related to chronic viral hepatitis infection in Australia is on the rise.

In 2012, data from an AIHW report shows that primary liver cancer is the fastest increasing cause of cancer death and has the fastest increasing incidence of all cancers. Liver cancer survival remains low, with less than 16% of people still alive 5 years after diagnosis. In 2014 it was estimated that 1,615 people died of liver cancer, which is similar to the number of lives lost to melanoma (1,625) – a much more common, but less lethal cancer.

Globally, viral hepatitis is responsible for 80% of liver cancers. The majority of primary liver cancers are from untreated chronic hepatitis B or C infection.

There are almost 240,000 people living in Australia with chronic hepatitis B infection. Most of these infections are in people from countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis B and were infected at birth or in childhood. Without medical intervention, 1 in 4 people living with chronic hepatitis B infection will die from liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

There are 230,000 people in Australia living with chronic hepatitis C infection. Most new infections are related to the sharing of injecting drug equipment. Around 20% of people remain undiagnosed and less than 2% access treatment each year. Between 60 and 70% of those with chronic infection will develop chronic liver disease, 20–30% will develop cirrhosis, and 1–5% will be diagnosed with liver cancer. 

Cancer Council Victoria's Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Program works to address the rise of liver cancer caused by viral hepatitis. The program has a focus on reducing the percentage of people who are undiagnosed as well as increasing access to medical monitoring and treatment.

Hepatitis B quick facts

Hepatitis C quick facts

  • 1 in 6 people are undiagnosed and may not have symptoms.
  • People who need testing include those from priority groups.
  • 60% of people with hepatitis C would benefit from treatment and less than 2% are accessing it.
  • There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. 

Early diagnosis is the key for liver cancer prevention

  • People from priority populations for hepatitis B and C need to be tested
  • People need their liver health checked regularly and referral to a specialist at the right time, there's no such thing as a healthy carrier
  • People should be treated for hepatitis and screened for liver cancer at the right times
  • People who are at higher risk of infection need to be vaccinated for hepatitis B

Quick link for GPs Hep B Help: How to interpret serology and diagnose hepatitis B.

Resources for health professionals

Cancer Council Victoria patient resources

Research and policies

For more information on the program contact Hepatitis Program Co-ordinator Emily Adamson on (03) 9514 6493 or email emily.adamson@cancervic.org.au

A selection of print resources
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Media: 9514 6401

615 St Kilda Road
Melbourne VIC 3004

Updated: 11 May, 2017